The Phantom of the Opera

Like many, I had my first introduction to Gaston Leroux's classic work The Phantom of the Opera through the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of the same name.  I've lost count how many times I've listened to the score over the years, and most of it I know by heart (and sing along to).  I love the story of how Christine DaaĆ© appears on the opera stage with an amazing vocal talent and attributes her new abilities to guidance from her strange Angel of Music.  Meanwhile, the handsome young viscount Raoul recognizes Christine as his childhood friend and falls in love with her, not knowing that the rival for his affections is to be the so-called Opera Ghost - a malicious stranger wreaking havoc throughout the opera house and making odd demands of the managers.

Upon reading the novel, I did not expect to recognize the story from what I knew of the stage production and was pleasantly surprised to find that much of the text had been preserved in the adaptation.  From the major characters to the minor ones, even Madame Giry and her daughter Meg (whose singing parts I love since I can pull off a decent mezzo and can't get anywhere near Christine's high notes) appear in both book and score.  There were also plenty of details, such as the lasso the "ghost" uses to strangle his targets and the lake beneath the opera house, that the adaptation did right.  The difference that most surprised me though was how human the character of "The Phantom" is in the original novel.  In the musical, he seems much less mortal - more the mysterious Angel of Music than a real man.  Yet, in the book when he was given both a name, Erik, and a backstory, I found him less likable than on stage.  Perhaps clouding his humanity in a ghostly mystique made his atrocious acts more acceptable, but I found his character in the book violent, frightening, and much less sympathetic.  I realized that Leroux intended for Erik's voice to be his main redeeming factor - the aspect that draws Christine to him -  and this obviously came through much better in the musical than in the book. 

Another thing that I found really interesting in the book is the description of the organ.  The title song in the musical is most recognizable by powerful and dynamic chords of organ music (DAAA-da-da-da-da-DAAA....).  And though Erik is described at multiple points as playing a piano, this passage struck me as almost funny, in light of the music that ran through my head as I read:

"Contrary to what one might think, especially in connection with an opera-house, the 'organ' is not a musical instrument.  At that time, electricity was employed only for a very few scenic effects and for the bells.  The immense building and the stage itself were still lit by gas; hydrogen was used to regulate and modify the lighting of a scene; and this was done by means of a special apparatus which, because of the multiplicity of its pipes, was known as the 'organ'"
~Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera p.223

So although the musical got many things right, I'm not sure that the inclusion of organ music was as accurate as intended.  I think this quote is also demonstrative of Leroux's almost documentary style of storytelling.  At first I found it a little off-putting, but once the story began to unfold, I appreciated his commentary-type notes as both informative and educational throughout the text. Overall, I'm really glad to have read this book.  As much as I love the musical, I think familiarity with the original source material gives me an even deeper appreciation of the art created in the adaptation.

9 Response to "The Phantom of the Opera"

  1. Casey (The Bookish Type) says:
    August 25, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    This is a beautiful review! I'm ashamed to admit, but I've neither seen nor read this one. I've been meaning to! After reading your lovely review, I think I definitely want to read it first. I'm so glad to hear the adaptation was so faithful! I hate it when adaptations change everything. Sigh.

  2. Mary Grace says:
    August 25, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    Hey Lisa. OMG! I love the review you made with this stunning book. I have re-read phantom of the Opera a billion times. Even bought the older version of the book(older English) and bought another copy. I super love the movie though I haven't watched the musical.

  3. lisa :) says:
    August 25, 2010 at 3:14 PM

    @TBT - Thank you so much! I think it was you that I had previously talked to about how it can be really hard to review "classics" so I thought taking the comparison route with this one would be a good twist. Maybe you can read it next year if you do Monsters in May again! (Okay so it's not really a monster book, but the old version of the movie is usually grouped with classic monster flicks - I think Lon Cheney even played the Phantom...)

    @Greyz - So glad you like the review and thanks so much for stopping in and commenting! I'm curious about the older versions of the book, are they pretty similar to the current text or has a lot been changed? Of course, I have no idea how well the English translations stack up to the original French either.

  4. Laura Massey says:
    August 25, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    I also recently read this book. I really enjoyed all the extra information about how Erik performed his little tricks in box 5 and the manager's office. I must say I do enjoy the musical better. The music makes the story much more interesting. And I love to sing along with Christine in "Think of Me."

  5. Crazybookworm says:
    August 26, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    Hi! I gave your an award, You can pick it up here:

  6. Margaret Duarte says:
    August 26, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Hi Lisa. What an awesome blogsite! And your review makes me want to read the book version of The Phantom of the Opera. I saw it on stage in San Francisco and it will forever play over and over in my mind.

  7. lisa :) says:
    August 26, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    @Laura - I did like how all Erik's tricks were explained. It made him a little more likable. I wonder if I had read the book first, if I would prefer it to the musical. (And I'm also glad I'm not the only one who likes to sing along!)

    @TCB - Thank you so much! I'm always very flattered by recognition from fellow bloggers. I will pass it along soon.

    @Margaret - So glad you like what I'm doing here! The score from Phantom is definitely one of my all time favorites, glad you like the show and hopefully you'll enjoy the book too!

  8. M. or W.W. says:
    August 26, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    So fun that you just read this! It is one of my all-time favorites. I am also one of those that has seen (and listened to) the musical hundreds of times, but I always come back to Leroux's novel. I'm getting really excited for you to read The Opera Ghost......this fall!

  9. lisa :) says:
    August 26, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    @MC - YOU'RE excited for me to read it?!!?? Why do you think this one jumped the TBR list? I'm stoked about The Opera Ghost (so much so that I just linked to The Time Chronicles which it still says "Summer 2010"...ahem....)

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